England to go it alone? Boris Johnson could stop short of bringing in new Covid curbs before New Year celebrations as new restrictions hit Wales and Scotland TODAY
- Boris Johnson is battling having to impose tough Covid restrictions for the New Year ahead of today’s meeting
- It is understood Downing Street is leaning towards urging people to be more cautious over new restrictions
- But if hospitalisations data suggests that the NHS could we overwhelmed by infections, this could change
England appeared set to go through New Year celebrations without tough new Covid restrictions today – as strict new rules came into effect in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson will get his first glimpse of Christmas infections today in a crunch meeting with his top advisers Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance that will examine whether new legal curbs are required ahead of the last social hurrah of 2021.
People in Scotland and Wales are waking today to new rules announced before Christmas that include Hogmanay celebrations cancelled for the second year in a row in Edinburgh.
Downing Street, which described today’s meeting as routine, is understood to be leaning towards new guidance urging people in England to be careful and limit contacts – rather than imposing new legally binding restrictions such as table service in pubs or limits on household mixing.
But this could change if data on hospitalisations suggests the NHS could be overwhelmed by a wave of coronavirus infections.
Full legal curbs would require Parliament to be recalled – which can be done within 48 hours – and would trigger already furious Tory backbenchers and cause serious problems for the hospitality industry.
The Prime Minister today faced warnings from within the Cabinet and from his restive backbenchers not to over-react.
One minister told the Guardian that the data was ‘struggling to be persuasive’ of the need for law changes. And Cotswolds MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, told LBC: ‘The latest figures we had before Christmas showed that the number of cases in hospital was relatively stable – and that is the main measure why we need any further lockdowns, is to deal with infectivity in hospitals, and I don’t see that before Christmas.
Boris Johnson (pictured) is battling to avoid imposing tough Covid restrictions for the New Year ahead of a crunch meeting with scientists today
Empty tables at a bar in Concert Square on Boxing Day in Liverpool’s city centre. Downing Street is understood to be leaning towards new guidance urging people in England to be careful and limit contacts – rather than imposing new legally-binding restrictions
Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty (right) and Chief Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance earlier this year. The Prime Minister will hold talks with advisers to discuss whether legal curbs are needed to deal with the threat of Omicron
Weddings, births and funerals ‘will be exempted from any future Covid crackdowns’ after limiting numbers on previous lockdowns was blamed for causing undue distress
Weddings, births and funerals will be exempted from any future Covid-19 restrictions after limiting numbers during previous lockdowns was blamed for causing undue stress.
The exemptions for life events are part of all scenarios that have been drawn up by the government to deal with the threat of Omicron.
Possible restrictions considered by the PM over the past few days include closing pubs and restaurants indoors, bringing back the rule of six or restricting the number of households meeting indoors, and limiting capacity at mass events.
But ministers are said to be against disrupting significant life events with the restrictions, even if they opt to bring back the rule of six in indoor settings, the Times reported.
Among the proposals are plans to prevent hospitals forcing women to attend scans and check ups – as well as give birth – without their partners.
And ministers are ‘increasingly optimistic but very cautiously optimistic’ they will avoid reimposing draconian lockdown rules in England before the new year.
‘It’s not just that there’s a clear gap between cases and hospitalisations, but also that when people are going into hospital they tend to be there for less time,’ a government source told the Times.
It is a stark difference from previous restrictions, under which the number of people allowed at weddings and funerals was capped – and saw the Queen attend Prince Philip’s funeral alone in April.
‘So, I hope the Prime Minister will be very, very cautious before introducing further measures.’
Sir Geoffrey said people were ‘taking matters into their own hands and being very cautious themselves’, adding: ‘That is the best answer in this situation – let people make their own decisions.’
Possible restrictions considered by the PM for England over the past few days include closing pubs and restaurants indoors, bringing back the rule of six or restricting the number of households meeting indoors, and limiting capacity at mass events.
Last night the beleaguered hospitality industry urged Mr Johnson to hold firm amid hopeful signs that Omicron is not as dangerous as previous variants.
Pub bosses said they were ‘on the brink’ after a catastrophic Christmas, adding: ‘The future of our world famous pubs now depends on this.’
So far Mr Johnson has resisted calls to go as far as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in introducing curbs on social mixing. Similar restrictions have also been imposed in many European countries – but not yet in England.
From today, Scottish nightclubs will be shuttered and hospitality businesses will need to return to offering only table service if serving alcohol.
Bars, restaurants and indoor leisure facilities such as gyms, theatres and museums will also have to reinstate one-metre social distancing regulations.
The restrictions come after caps were placed on large events from Sunday.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced last week that just 100 people would be able to attend a standing indoor event and 200 seated.
Outdoor events will also be restricted to 500 – a rule which has hit football games hardest.
Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leach appeared to criticise Mr Johnson’s approach this morning, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘This virus has never reached well to delay, it has never reacted to soft, slow responses, it has always reacted best to hard, fast responses.’
But last night sources said the recall of Parliament was looking less likely than it had before Christmas – an indication that Downing Street is leaning away from stricter curbs. If simple guidance was issued, urging people to limit their contacts, this would not need Parliamentary sanctioning or the backing of the Cabinet.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: ‘The New Year weekend is the last chance for our beleaguered hospitality businesses to get some much needed cash through the doors to sustain them through the quiet days of January and February.
‘We urge the PM to stick to current plans. There is still much we don’t know about Omicron but we do know about the economic and social hit of lockdowns and restrictions – so caution is right.’
Last night the Campaign for Pubs wrote to Mr Johnson and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, urging them to avoid the imposition of tough restrictions.
They said: ‘We are on the brink – in many cases literally on the verge of being unable to carry on, of walking away and of going under.
‘We can’t go on like this. We cannot deal with a renewed cycle of restrictions and lockdown without proper financial support.’
Last week the Prime Minister faced significant resistance from some Cabinet ministers, who told him the existing data on Omicron did not justify calls for further restrictions after Christmas.
While Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Mr Sunak spoke out against further curbs, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries argued that they were necessary.
Mr Johnson also faces mounting pressure from Tory backbenchers. Earlier this month 100 of them rebelled against his plans for vaccine passports.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said: ‘Enough is enough. There must be no new unnecessary restrictions this week whether the PM sees fit to recall Parliament for an emergency session or whether he resorts simply to new guidance.’
His colleague Alec Shelbrooke added: ‘The Prime Minister must stand firm and refuse to impose new restrictions this week.
‘There is no justification for ruining people’s New Year celebrations and inflicting yet more damage on our economy.’
London is being battered hardest by the new variant, with one in 20 infected with the virus and ten of the worst hit postcodes in England located within a three square mile stretch between Wandsworth and Lambeth (highlighted in yellow above)
Reports have claimed ministers are watching hospitalisation numbers in the capital, with a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown set to be imposed if daily numbers surpass 400
Graph shows: The infection rate per 100,000 in the ten worst affected postcodes in the UK compared to the general rate in the rest of England since the start of October
ENGLAND: The ONS Covid-19 Infection Survey estimates around 1.5million people had Covid on any given day in the week leading up to December 19. The figure was up 65 per cent on the previous week
Confirmed Covid case rate per 100,000 people in areas across the UK according to official UK Health Security Agency data
New Covid restrictions introduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from today
New coronavirus restrictions are being introduced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland today as the country’s leaders try to combat rising Covid cases but politicians in England are unlikely to discuss further measures until Monday.
The three nations have each imposed limits on the size of gatherings, requirements for social distancing and tighter rules for pubs, restaurants and leisure venues.
The new rules mean that Boxing Day football matches in Scotland will be played in front of a maximum of 500 seated fans, while in Wales all large sporting events will be played behind closed doors.
From today, a maximum of six people will be allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants in Wales and a total of 30 people will be allowed at indoor events while 50 people will be allowed at outdoor events.
First minister Mark Drakeford also said the two metre social distancing is being required in public premises and offices, and nightclubs will close.
The rules, in force from 6am this morning, are a revised version of alert level two.
In Scotland, large events will have one metre physical distancing and will be limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.
A day later, up to three households can meet with a one metre distancing between groups at indoor and outdoor venues like bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms. Table service is also needed at places where alcohol is served.
Northern Ireland is also bringing in restrictions on Boxing Day and December 27, with indoor standing events no longer permitted and nightclubs closing.
Socialising will be reduced to three households while up to six people can meet in pubs, bars and restaurants. Ten people will be allowed if they are from the same household. Only table service will be available.
A two metre social distancing rule will be in place in public premises and offices.
Scores of Brits say they tested positive at family Christmas gatherings stoking fears Covid infections will rocket when data blackout ends tomorrow – when Boris is set to decide on restrictions after 10% of Londoners were infected last week
By Stephen Wynn-Davies and Katie Feehan for MailOnline
Scores of Britons have tested positive for Covid today following family Christmas gatherings – stoking fears that infections will sky rocket well above 100,000 when data reporting resumes tomorrow.
Boris Johnson is poised to evaluate restrictions across the country tomorrow after SAGE experts warned that the Omicron variant could cause a surge of hospitalisations higher than last winter’s peak – despite a string of studies showing the variant is milder than other strains.
Unvaccinated people who catch Covid are 60 TIMES more likely to end up in intensive care, new research reveals
Unvaccinated people who catch Covid are up to 60 times more likely to end up in an intensive care ward than those who have been jabbed, startling figures reveal.
And the difference that vaccination makes to the chance of needing intensive care is starkest among older people – who are more likely to suffer serious Covid illness in the first place.
It comes as Covid hospital admissions in London — Britain’s Omicron ground zero — are within touching distance of the Government’s threshold of 400 for introducing lockdown restrictions across the country.
Latest NHS data shows there were 386 new admissions for the virus in the capital on December 22, marking a 92 per cent rise on the figure last week.
Covid hospitalisations are now doubling roughly every 10 days – though they are still a far cry from the 850 at the peak last January.
Ministers are said to be watching admission rates in the capital before pulling the trigger on more national curbs because London is a few weeks ahead in its Omicron outbreak.
Figures from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC), which covers units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, show that between May and November the rate of admission for double-jabbed Covid sufferers in their 60s was just 0.6 cases per 100,000 people per week.
But among people of the same age who remained unvaccinated, the rate was 37.3 per 100,000 per week – equating to a relative risk about 60 times higher.
Among those in their 50s and 70s there was almost a 30-fold difference in average weekly admission rates between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
In younger age groups the difference was lower but still marked – unvaccinated people in their 30s and 40s were between ten and 15 times more likely to end up in intensive care with Covid than those who had received their jabs.
Pictures posted to social media showed the consequences of a positive Covid test, with one person in Sheffield sharing a photograph of them eating their Christmas lunch outside, under a gazebo and next to some bins.
Meanwhile extra restrictions began in Scotland today, with football matches limited to 500, social gatherings capped at three households and table required in pubs.
In Wales, the rule of six is being brought back in and social gatherings are limited to 30 people.
Another person shared a picture of a positive lateral flow test with antlers and ‘Merry Christmas’ placed on the image using Instagram filters. The person wrote: ‘And so the c***py #covid Christmas continues: 3 out of 4 of us test positive. Awaiting PCR test results for 2 but expecting ++. Symptoms are more like cold/flu than anything else.’
Figures from the ONS on Friday showed 1 in 10 Londoners had the virus last week, with fears millions of Brits will be forced into seven day isolation – crippling essential services and the beleaguered hospitality industry.
On Christmas Eve, SAGE warned that the UK is about to be hit by a large wave of Covid hospitalisations and said the peak could be even higher than last winter despite the reduced severity of Omicron.
Studies have found that the Omicron variant of Covid has up to a 70 percent less chance of hospitalising people it infects, but the lastest modelling from London School of Health and Tropical Medicine finds that it could still cause a high peak of hospitalisations.
The most recent Covid infection figures available are from Christmas Eve, when a record 122,186 daily Covid cases were recorded. Covid hospitalisations in London also rose steeply, although there is some debate over how many of those are patients admitted primarily for the symptoms of coronavirus.
In minutes from a meeting on December 23, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned that the peak on hospital admissions ‘may be comparable to or higher than previous peaks’ – including the second wave in January.
MPs and hospitality bosses have warned not to bring in new restrictions before New Year’s Eve or risk ‘devastating’ businesses.
The Prime Minister is said to be determined to avoid closing schools, as last night Tory MPs issued a warning shot at Mr Johnson and his Government to resist any lockdown measures. Cabinet Ministers last week rejected Government scientists’ suggestions to tighten rules before Christmas.
Following studies last week that showed Omicron is significantly less likely to cause hospitalisation than the Delta variant, Mr Johnson is not expected to bring in legally binding restrictions or lockdown measures.
In a more likely scenario the Premier could issue guidance telling people to limit their contacts.
It comes as a record 1.7million people had Covid last week and it was revealed the ten worst-hit by Covid areas in England are all within a three square mile radius in south London.
The capital is being battered hardest by the super mutant Omicron variant after quickly becoming a hotbed for the strain earlier this month, with one in 20 infected in the capital according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.
The ten postcodes — all in Wandsworth and Lambeth — have an average infection rate of 3,819 cases per 100,000 people, more than quadruple the 838 per 100,000 in the rest of the country.
But writing in The Mail on Sunday, Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, warns Mr Johnson not to do anything to ruin New Year’s Eve plans.
‘Enough is enough,’ he writes. ‘There must be no new unnecessary restrictions this week whether the PM sees fit to recall Parliament for an emergency session or whether he resorts simply to more guidance.’
People in London swarm into Selfridges for Boxing Day sales. London is being battered hardest by the super mutant Omicron variant after quickly becoming a hotbed for the strain earlier this month
Londoners walk around with shopping bags on Boxing Day. A record 1.7million people had Covid last week and it was revealed the ten worst-hit by Covid areas in England are all within a three square mile radius in south London
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade association UK Hospitality, said: ‘For many beleaguered hospitality businesses the New Year period is the last chance they have of making some much needed revenue to be able to get them through the lean months of January and February.’
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: ‘The uncertainty is killing our sector at the moment.
‘If the Government closes businesses for New Year’s Eve, people will simply gather in people’s households or at illegal events and it’s going to be counterproductive.’
Des Gunewardena, chief executive of the D&D London group, which owns 40 venues including Bluebird and Le Pont de la Tour, said: ‘New Year’s Eve is massive, it’s the biggest night of the year for us across all of our restaurants.’
Meanwhile the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has urged the Government not to close churches and places of worship once again.
Speaking to the BBC, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: ‘I think this country has shown that people can make good judgments themselves.
Boxing Day shoppers walk through the centre of Cardiff, Wales. New restrictions are being introduced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as the country’s leaders try to combat rising Covid cases
Boxing Day shoppers queue to enter shops in the centre of Cardiff, Wales, as new Covid rules come into force. It is thought Boris Johnson is hoping to avoid legally-binding curbs against Omicron
‘We’re at that point of saying we understand the risk. We know what we should do. Most people are sensible and cautious. We don’t need stronger impositions to teach us what to do.’
But a Government source told The Mail on Sunday there is a ‘danger’ that people who were careful in the run up to Christmas to be able to see their loved ones will start mixing more after today.
However the source said the overall picture on Omicron is ‘more optimistic than people thought’.
Tomorrow a ‘Covid-O’ committee of Ministers and officials will discuss the frontline staff shortages as a result of Omicron spreading.
The meeting will include Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
The appeals from MPs and business leaders came as new Sage papers and fresh modelling warned that Omicron may yet lead to a higher peak of hospitalisations than last winter’s – despite its lower severity and widespread vaccination.
Last January hospitalisations peaked at 4,583 daily admissions, over four times the current rate.
But although three UK studies last week found that Omicron was much less virulent than Delta – between 15 and 70 per cent less likely to lead to hospitalisation – Sage cautioned against optimism.
It warned these figures were largely based on younger people who have formed the bulk of infections so far.
Those who shared news of their positive test results on social media included a woman who was forced to cancel plans to host her family on Christmas Day after her nine-year-old son tested positive in the morning.
One user said her whole family had tested positive for Covid-19, while another woman said she tested negative in the morning and when she tested again in the evening she was positive.
While another Twitter user said he was due to visit his in-laws for the first time since 2019, only for his youngest to test positive two hours before they got together.
The UK is about to be hit by a large wave of Covid hospitalisations and the peak could be even higher than last winter despite the reduced severity of the Omicron variant, SAGE have warned
‘I literally know so many people who have tested positive on Christmas Day. That’s not very Christmassy’, said another.
But while some people were disappointed, others said they had ‘made the most of it’.
As the wave of infections continues across the UK, ministers are planning to send door-to-door teams armed with Covid jabs to reach the estimated five million people yet to be inoculated.
Government dashboard data shows there were 122,186 positive tests across the country on Friday, which was up about 30 per cent on the week before and more than double the figure a fortnight ago.
Meanwhile, around 1 in 10 people in London were likely infected with COVID-19 on Sunday, according to new official estimates that underlined the relentless advance of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Daily modelled estimates produced by the Office for National Statistics showed around 9.5% of Londoners had COVID-19 as of Sunday, within a 95 per cent confidence interval of 8.43 per cent to 10.69 per cent.
Two people walk around in Covent Garden in London on Boxing Day. Tomorrow a ‘Covid-O’ committee of Ministers and officials will discuss the frontline staff shortages as a result of Omicron spreading
Groups of people, some in masks, wandering around London on December 26. A Government source told The Mail on Sunday there is a ‘danger’ that people who were careful in the run up to Christmas to be able to see their loved ones will start mixing more after today
Crowds walk around in London’s Covent Garden. The most recent Covid infection figures available are from Christmas Eve, when a record 122,186 daily Covid cases were recorded. Covid hospitalisations in London also rose steeply, although there is some debate over how many of those are patients admitted primarily for the symptoms of coronavirus
The figures came a day after Britain recorded a record number of new coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant swept across the country, with the daily tally reaching 119,789 from 106,122 a day earlier.
The ONS report also showed a record 1 in 35 people in England had COVID-19 between Dec. 13 and Dec. 19 – compared with a previous estimate published on Thursday of 1 in 45 in the week to Dec. 16.
Many industries and transport networks are struggling with staff shortages as sick workers self-isolate, while hospitals in Britain have warned of the risk of an impact on patient safety.
Omicron’s rapid advance has driven a surge in cases in Britain over the last seven days, with the total rising by 678,165, government data showed on Thursday.
As the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggles to limit the economic impact of the latest COVID-19 outbreak, it said on Wednesday it was reducing the legal self-isolation period in England to seven days from 10.
The new infections meant nearly 900,000 Britons who tested positive in the last 10 days faced spending Christmas Day in self-isolation — although people who tested positive a week ago in England can be let out early if they come back negative on lateral flows.
Meanwhile separate ONS figures revealed nationally there were 1.69million infections per day in the week up to December 19 — last Sunday — rising 55 per cent compared to the previous week.
The survey — based on swabs of more than 555,000 people — is regarded as the most reliable indicator of Britain’s Covid pandemic because it uses random sampling rather than relying on people coming forward for tests.
Despite there being a record number of infections last week, the ONS’ findings are out of step with gloomy Government modelling that has suggested Omicron was doubling nationally every two days.
Discussions between the Department of Health, NHS England and No 10 over the past week have looked at a nationwide drive to send vaccine teams to areas with low uptake rates as a crucial way to avoid lockdown and other restrictions.
It is also seen as a way to get jabs to rural areas or households where people cannot easily get to a vaccination centre.
This comes as SAGE warned the UK is about to be hit by a large wave of Covid hospitalisations and the peak could be even higher than last winter despite the reduced severity of Omicron.
Meanwhile, hospitalisations in London were dangerously close to the Government’s threshold of 400 for more national restrictions, reaching 386 on December 22.
The rising statistics came as SAGE warned the NHS still faces a wave of Covid hospital admissions on par with or worse than previous peaks.
Mounting evidence — including findings of three key UK studies — has indicated the Omicron variant is up to 70 per cent less likely to cause hospitalisation than Delta.
But SAGE — which has advised Government throughout the pandemic — warns the variant is spreading so fast that it could offset any reduction in severity.
In minutes from a meeting on December 23 published last night, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned that the peak on hospital admissions ‘may be comparable to or higher than previous peaks’ – including the second wave in January.
But MPs and hospitality bosses have warned Boris Johnson not to bring in new restrictions before New Year’s Eve or risk ‘devastating’ businesses.
The vaccination drive continued throughout Christmas Day. NHS England said thousands of first, second and booster jabs were given yesterday.
Meanwhile more than 220,000 first doses of the vaccine were administered in the week to 21 December, up by 46 per cent compared to the previous week. First dose uptake in 18-24 year-olds rose by 85 per cent in the same period, and 71 per cent in 25 to 30-year-olds.
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